Spoleto Festival USA unveils many premieres, debuts

Necessity may be the mother of invention, but it’s also the aunt of inconvenience and the sister of scrambling at the last minute.

Spoleto Festival USA learned in November that renovations on Gaillard Auditorium, the Charleston showplace for big dance and music events, would not be finished for the fest. But organizers have rearranged schedules deftly over 38 years, so the extravaganza will go off with the usual bang: the world premiere of one opera, the American premiere of another, the Spoleto debut of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and an international array of jazz musicians and dance companies.

Tickets go on sale Tuesday. (Donors can buy them now.) You can often get seats at larger venues on the spot during the 17-day run, but certain events – chamber music and jazz gigs – will probably sell out before May 22. Here’s the scoop on what’s coming.


Jennifer Wen Ma, who worked on the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, teams with composer Huang Ruo and librettists Wen Ma and Ji Chao on the world premiere of “Paradise Interrupted.” It’s about a dreamer who ventures into a vast garden and will be sung by Qian Yi (“The Peony Pavilion”) and four Western-trained male singers.

The first American performances of Francesco Cavalli’s “Veremonda l’Amazzone di Aragona” – and the first anywhere in 350 years – will be heard in an edition commissioned by Spoleto. Conductor Aaron Carpenè and director Stefano Vizioli (last year’s “Mese Mariano” and “Le Villi”) present this story of the Spanish king and queen’s siege of the Moorish fort on the Rock of Gibraltar in the 1600s. Mezzo Vivica Genaux will sing the title role.


Scottish Ballet will bring its production of “A Streetcar Named Desire,” a full-length adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ play. Director Nancy Meckler and choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa set it to a score by Peter Salem that incorporates the sounds of New Orleans jazz.

Trisha Brown Dance Company will perform four works, featuring sets and costumes by Robert Rauschenberg and music by Laurie Anderson. Shen Wei Dance Arts will do “Map,” set to selections from Steve Reich’s “The Desert Music,” and a new work, “The Desert Music,” using a series of large-scale abstract paintings.


Shakespeare’s Globe makes its Spoleto debut and U.S. premiere with a new production of “Romeo and Juliet,” directed by Dominic Dromgoole and Tim Hoare. Canada’s 2b Theatre also makes a Festival debut with Anthony Black’s “When It Rains,” a play that asks, “If the biblical Job were an atheist beset by successive misfortunes, would anything be tested in him?”

Italy’s Carlo Colla and Sons Marionette Company brought “Cinderella” to the festival in 2010 and comes back with “Sleeping Beauty.” It uses 165 handcrafted marionettes, hand-painted scenery and intricate costumes, and it’s told in English to excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s ballet score.

A thousand-year performance tradition from Vietnam reaches Spoleto in Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre. Puppets dance, skip and glide over water to tell fantastical traditional tales; live musicians accompany puppeteers on traditional instruments. An outdoor pool and stage will be built in the College of Charleston Cistern Yard for these performances.

Australia’s Casus Circus will make its Festival debut with “Knee Deep,” which features acrobatics and aerial stunts with a raw emotional edge.


Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell, who won a 2014 Grammy for Americana Album of the Year, will play a Memorial Day concert. Taylor Mac, who’s developing a 24-hour marathon concert of songs from 24 decades of popular music, will play sections of it. Dancer Lil Buck will make his Spoleto debut with the world premiere “What Moves You,” a collaboration with cellist Ashley Bathgate; works by Bach and contemporary composer Yoav Shemesh are featured.

The Wells Fargo Jazz series offers vocalist Dianne Reeves; Brazilian singer Mônica Salmaso, with pianist Nelson Ayers and Teco Cardoso on saxophone and flute; American singer-songwriter Madeleine Peyroux; two Italian duos, Musica Nuda (vocalist Petra Magoni and double-bassist Ferruccio Spinetti) and the team of Rita Marcotulli and Luciano Biondini on piano and accordion; American vocalist Kate Davis; and Argentine pianist Carlos Aguirre, whose compositions fuse South American folklore, jazz, and chamber music. A day-long Wells Fargo Festival Finale concludes the season at Middleton Place with gourmet picnic fare, a beer garden, regional bands, Alabama soul band St. Paul & The Broken Bones and fireworks.

Classical Music

Joe Miller, Spoleto director for choral activities, will conduct five Westminster Choir performances. Those range from Eric Whitacre’s “Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine” to Monteverdi’s “Si ch’io vorrei morire” to David Lang’s Pulitzer-winning “The Little Match Girl Passion,” with the U.S. premiere of choreography by Pontus Lidberg. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion teams Westminster with the Charleston Symphony Orchestra Chorus, Taylor Festival Choir and instrumentalists from New York Baroque Incorporated and the Spoleto Orchestra.

The Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra will also play Tan Dun’s “Concerto for Orchestra” and Sibelius’ Symphony No. 5 and will accompany screenings of Charlie Chaplin’s 1931 silent film “City Lights” and the 2002 “Decasia,” Bill Morrison’s meditation on the age and decay of silent films.

Conductor John Kennedy’s Music in Time series features five concerts of contemporary music, from works by “Paradise Interrupted” composer Huang Ruo to Charles Ives’ massive “Concord” sonata for piano. A concert titled “Quarter-Tone Shredding” features electric guitarist Travis Andrews and percussionist Andy Meyerson.

Violinist Geoff Nuttall returns to program the Bank of America Chamber Music series, which offers 33 concerts at Dock Street Theatre. Artists new to that stage include violinist Benjamin Beilman and composer-in-residence Mark Applebaum, who’ll write a work to premiere at the festival.